By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Friday January 27, 2012 - 06:13:00 PM

Food became a metaphor for life as M. F. K. Fisher learned and explained the arts of cooking and of eating. Her reputation as a writer about food and its importance in human life began in 1937 with publication of her first book, Serve It Forth. 

Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher (1908-1992) and her husband, American painter and writer George Dillwyn Parrish (1894-1941), were living in Switzerland when she gained notice as a gastronome-- a connoisseur of good food and drink, a gourmet.  

She came upon a painting that captured her imagination and became the basis for an essay, Sister Age, which is included in her book of the same title about aging, published when she was 75. Its cover is the portrait of Ursula von Ott, a forgotten German Swiss lady vintage 1767. When Fisher first saw it in a “drab little shop,” she knew: “I was going to write about growing old…I was going to learn from the picture. It was very clear to me, and I planned to think and study about the art of aging for several years, and then tell how to learn and practice it.” The woman in the painting came to symbolize for Fisher the “secret strength” of age, a lodestar to guide her way through her own difficult aging. A lodestar is a star, especially Polaris, that is used as a point of reference. 

Fisher was raised in Whittier, California, where her father published the local Whittier News. She spent much of her adult life in Europe. French became her second language. As a young widow in 1941, she published her second book, Consider the Oyster. Her final days were in Sonoma County.  

In a career spanning more than 60 years, Fisher wrote hundreds of stories for the New Yorker magazine, as well as books of essays and memoir. She produced the English translation of Brillat-Savarin's book The Physiology of Taste, travelogues, and a novel, Not Now But Now. While other food writers limited their writing to the particulars of individual dishes or expositions of the details of cuisine, she used food as a cultural metaphor. 

As the years passed, bringing arthritis, a weakened heart and Parkinson’s disease, she stopped driving her car, but she continued to write, cook and entertain. “I will not bow” she declared in an interview. “Absolutely not bow. I say, Brother Pain, come in and sit down, you and I are going to take this thing in hand. And I will not give in.” As a kind of proof, she completed the Sister Age book (1983 originally published in 1964), a collection of fifteen story-essays about aging. “Mrs. Teeters’ Tomato Jar” and “A Kitchen Allegory” are notable.  

“I took liberties with Saint Francis, who wrote songs to his brother the Sun, his sister the Moon. My book is about old age. I think it is something you must welcome, and I welcome it as a sister. And I am grateful. Other people have done much more and much better, but I‘m glad I’ve lived this life and I expect to be around for many others.” 

Fisher was 75 years old, living in Glen Ellen, and in poor health when an interview elicited these responses about what aging meant to her: 

“Do I think everyday about being old? Never never. I just now certain physical things that I must do that I didn’t do ten years ago. It’s not oppressive at all. It’s a condition and I accept it. What I regret is, it’s the last one I have to cope with… I will not let it depress me…” 

“These are things I can do now that I couldn’t do then… I can concentrate more, and I enjoy things in a way I never did before… I think the appreciation that I feel as an older woman – for instance, the color of that flower – is more intense than it was when I was younger. I like it very much.” 

“I’m not aiming for anything. I’m alive and live with as much enjoyment and dignity as I can… do it gracefully and pay my way if possible, as long as possible.”  


"3-fold risk of infection for elderly after emergency department visits" reports the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Jan. 23, 2012. 

Fifteen senior centers have won recognition in the 2011 Programs of Excellence Awards, sponsored by the National Council on Aging (NCOA)'s National Institute of Senior Centers (NISC). The awards spotlight innovative, creative, and replicable programs for older adults. More than 83 entries were submitted for seven categories, including creative arts, fundraising, health, and more. They have been compiled all into a guide for senior centers.  

"Historical, Generational Trauma Haunt Vietnamese Seniors in U.S.," by Vanessa White (New America Media, Jan. 21, 2012). This article is the second part of a series on this topic; there is a link to the first article: 

"Vietnamese Elders Struggle With Depression Years After War," by the same author (Jan. 18, 2012).  



MARK YOUR CALENDAR: Be sure to confirm. Readers are welcome to share by email news of future events and deadlines that may interest boomers, seniors and elders. Daytime, free, and Bay Area events preferred.  

Wednesdays, beginning January 25. 9:30 A.M. – 11 A.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. San Francisco History and Highlights. Join Eric Hill, Volunteer Instructor for San Francisco History and Highlights. Free. 510-747-7510. 

Thursday, Jan. 26. 1:30 P.M. Music Appreciation Class. Join William Sturm, Volunteer Instructor. Piano recital and discussion about “The Classical Romantic: Johannes Brahms.” Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Ave., Alameda. 510-747-7510. 

Saturday, Jan. 28. 10 A.M. – 3 P.M. Berkeley City College. Center Street. The College’s Global Studies Club and the Bay Area-wide Against Cuts organization will host a budget Conference, Teach-In and Organizing Session in the college’s atrium and auditorium. Attendees will plan and initiate local and regional organizing activities against statewide budget cuts. For details, or e-mail Joan Berezin at 510-981-2852. 

Monday, Jan. 30. 6 P.M. Evening Computer Class at Central Berkeley Public Library. . Central Berkeley Library, 2090 Kittredge. 510-981-6100.  

Monday, Jan. 30. 7 P.M. Ellis Island Old World Folk Band Performance. 

Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Ave. Old World and New World repertoire emphasizing the transition that took place when Jews came to America at the beginning of the last century. Tunes from the Yiddish theater and radio featuring vocals made popular by the Barry Sisters, queens of 1940s Yiddish Swing. This award-winning band has pioneered the revival of klezmer, lively and soulful Eastern European Jewish music. Free. 510-524-3043 

Tuesday, Jan. 31. 1 P.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. John Jacobs, Vice President of Bank of Alameda, will provide an Insurance Primer. Learn what the current FDIC Insurance limits are and whether you are investing your money properly. Free. 510-747-7510. 


Wednesday, Feb. 1. 9 A.M. – 1:30 P.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. The AARP Driver Safety Refresher Course is specifically designed for motorists age 50+. Taught in one-day. To qualify, you must have taken the standard course within the last 4 years. Preregistration essential. $12 per person fee for AARP members (AARP membership number required); $14 per person fee for non-AARP members. Registration fee payable by check only, to AARP. 510-747-7510 

Wednesday, Feb. 1. 12 Noon. Playreaders at Central Berkeley Library, 2090 Kittredge. 510-981-6100. Also Feb. 8, 15, 22 and 29. 

Wednesday, Feb. 1. 12:15 – 1 P.M. Nathan Noh, solo piano: Free Noon Concert Series. UC,B Music Dept. Hertz Concert Hall. Beethoven: Sonata in A-flat major, op. 110
Ravel: two movements from Miroirs Balakirev: Islamey. 510-642-4864 

Thursday, Feb. 2. 10 A.M. Computers for Beginners. Central Berkeley Library, 2090 Kittredge. 510-981-6100. Also Feb. 9, 16 and 23, and March 1. 

Thursday, Feb. 2. 1:30-2:30 P.M. Fred Setterberg will discuss his book, Lunch Bucket Paradise, a true-life novel about growing up in blue-collar suburbia in 1950s and 60s East Bay. Albany Library, 1247 Martin Avenue. Free. 510-526-3720. This is a program in the Alameda County Library’s Older Adults Services series; for dates and branches throughout the county, call 510-745-1491. 

Thursday, Feb. 2. 7 P.M. Behind the Music of Bustan & Ben Goldberg. Jewish Community Center, 1414 Walnut, Berkeley. Come hear two of the movers and shakers behind the world-class music to be heard at this year’s Jewish Music Festival. Free. 510-848-0237. Also March 22.  

Friday, February 3. 3-4:30 P.M. UC,B 125 Morrison Hall. Free. Composition Colloquia: Kronos and Composers. The weekly Composer Colloquium at the Department of Music welcomes members of the Kronos Quartet (David Harrington, others to be announced) for a moderated session about commissioned works. 510-642-4864. 

Monday, Feb. 6. 6 P.M. Evening Computer Class. Central Berkeley Library, 2090 Kittredge. 510-981-6100. Also Feb. 13 and 27. 

Wednesday, Feb. 8. 12:15-1 P.M. Michael Tan, cello; Miles Graber, piano. Andrea Wu, solo piano. Free Noon Concert Series. UC,B Music Dept. Hertz Concert Hall. 

Rachmaninoff: Vocalise Faure: Après un rêve Shostakovich: Cello Sonata, mvts. 2 and 4 Schumann: Sonata, op. 22 Prokofiev: Toccata, op. 11. 510-642-4864 

Thursday, Feb. 9. 6 PM. Lawyers in the Library. South branch, Berkeley Public Library, 1901 Russell. 981-6100. 

Monday, Feb. 13. 7 P.M. Author talk. Songwriter poet Marisa Handler will speak about her writing, songs and poetry. Her memoir, Loyal to the Sky: Notes from an Activist won a 2008 Nautilus Gold Award for world-changing books. Born in apartheid South Africa, Handler immigrated to Southern California when she was twelve. Her gradual realization that injustice existed even in this more open, democratic society spurred a commitment to activism that would take her to Israel, India, Nepal, Ecuador, Peru, and throughout the United States. Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Av. Free. 510-524-3043.  

Wednesday, Feb. 15. 12:15-1 P.M. Free Noon Concert Series. Hertz Concert Hall. Recital: Jeffrey Syles, piano, with Axel Strauss, violin, and Jean-Michel Fontenau, cello. Mendelssohn: Piano Trio in C Minor Piazzola: two movements from Grand Tango. 510-642-4864 

Wednesday, Feb. 15. 7-8 P.M. Adult evening book group: E. L. Doctorow’s World’s Fair. Albany Branch, Alameda Country Library, 1247 Marin Ave. Free. 510-526-3720 

Thursday, Feb. 16. 6 P.M. Lawyers in the Library. West branch, Berkeley Public Library, 1125 University. 510-981-6270. 



Tuesday, February 21. 9:30 A.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. Mastick Non-Fiction Book Club. Members will review Stormy Weather: The Life of Lena Horne by James Gavin and/or Paul Newman: A Life by Shawn 

Levy. 510-747-7510. 


Wednesday, Feb. 22. 12:15 – 1 P.M. Jazz x 2: Free Noon Concert Series. UC,B Music Dept. Hertz Concert Hall. UC Jazz All-stars, Ted Moore, Director. Berkeley Nu Jazz Collective, Myra Melford, Director. 510-642-4864 



Wednesday, Feb. 22. 12:30-1:30 P.M. Albany YMCA/Albany Library Brown Bag Lunch Speaker’s Forum. Albany Branch, Alameda Country Library, 1247 Marin Ave. Free. 510-526-3720 x 16. 


Friday, Feb. 24. 9 A.M.-4 P.M. Annual convention. United Seniors of Oakland and Alameda County. 510-729-0852. 


Wednesday, Feb. 29. 12:15-1 P.M. Gospel Chorus, Old Made New: Free Noon Concert Series. UC, B Music Dept. Highlights - University Gospel Chorus, D. Mark Wilson, director. Old Songs in New Clothes: Old hymns given new life and meaning in contemporary compositions by African American composers. 510-642-4864 


Wednesday, Feb. 29. 7:00 PM. Kensington Library Book Club. 61 Arlington Av. 

February's book is The Trial by Franz Kafka. The book group alternates classic and contemporary literature on a monthly basis. Each meeting starts with a poem selected and read by a member. 510-524-3043.  



Thursday, March 1. 10 A.M. Computers for Beginners. Central Berkeley Library, 2090 Kittredge. 510-981-6100. \ 


Monday, March 26. 7 P.M. Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Av. Book Club.  

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peal Society by Mary Ann Shaffer. Each meeting starts with a poem selected and read by a member with a brief discussion following the reading. New members are always welcome. Free. 510-524-3043.